One more try…

Oh well. The past couple of posts on a ‘thought-experiment‘ in using enterprise-architecture methods to guide a fundamental rethink of economics both seem to have gone down like the proverbial lead-balloon. Fair enough. But I guess I’ll do one more try before going back to more conventional enterprise-architecture themes. (If anyone is interested in this, we can always come back to it later if need be.)

So: here’s the background.

No-one would doubt that, globally speaking, we all have a few problems at present. Global financial crash, some serious environmental overshoots, an evident reshuffle going on in the global power-positioning between various nation-states, and increasing social unrest even (or perhaps especially) in so-called ‘developed’ countries.

Yet those are almost trivial compared to what any competent futurist could see coming up on the horizon. Seriously.

So much of “Seriously.”, in fact, that there’s no possible way that we’d still be able to survive long-term – or even medium-term – with what we currently think of as ‘business-as-usual’. And I don’t just mean business-survival or suchlike – I mean survival. Period.

Hence we’re talking about an urgent need here for some truly fundamental changes. Not just minor tweaks of the deckchairs on the Titanic.

We still see lots of attempts at such ‘tweaking’, of course. The most popular seems to be about trying to tweak individual parts of the existing money-system – which by now everyone knows isn’t going to work. Perhaps the next most popular type of tweak is the search for ‘alternative currencies‘. Yet all of those ideas fail at the first hurdle, because the real source of the problem goes much deeper than that. Trying to build yet another structure on top of something that already doesn’t work is kinda futile, really…

The real problem is about possession. But it isn’t about who has the money, or who possesses the property: those kinds of problems are ‘fixable’ by ordinary political means. No: the real problem is the entire concept of possession itself. And that’s a lot deeper than just politics: that one really is fundamental.

And the problem is that possession doesn’t work. It never has. That’s the whole point. The notion that “possession makes the world go round” is a total delusion: most times, possession is what makes it go stop. Which, ultimately, is why it guarantees a world that doesn’t work. (Like now. Only worse.)

‘Possession’ is a screaming toddler’s refusal to share – a refusal to accept that the complexities and responsibilities that make a social world viable are always mutual, and must necessarily apply to everyone.

To be blunt, the myth of ‘possession’ arose when some foolish parent failed to pacify and placate a selfish, self-centred, screaming child. Kind of embarrassing to realise that so much of our vaunted ‘world-economy’ has its roots in the nursery, in the possessive temper-tantrum of a child lost in the ‘terrible twos’. Most children do grow out of it, eventually; but some don’t grow out of it at all – and that’s where the problems start…

Unfortunately, too many two-year-olds learnt that screaming and stealing and hitting people and holding onto things that they don’t need will seem to give them ‘control’ over others. The screamers do indeed ‘get results’, for themselves, for a while – but only by making it harder and harder for everyone else to sort out the resultant mess.

More unfortunately, it’s very addictive: it gives apparently-good results in the short-term, but at the cost of screwing things up in the longer-term.

Even more unfortunately, it’s also very infective: when stealing ‘wins’, who wants to be the ‘loser’? Which is why, some 5000 years or so after this mistake first became established – apparently starting within a small sub-clan somewhere in what later became called Mesopotamia – we now have an entire global structure that actively rewards even the most obsessive self-centredness, and actively punishes almost any form of responsibility. Which is why we now have a global economy and a global environment right on the brink of total collapse. Oops…

So, what do we about it?

Let’s start right from the beginning:

The core foundation of all economics and social structures is a ‘value-network’ of interlocking mutual responsibilities.

That part of ‘the economy’ does still work. And we know it works, because we can see it do so in many different contexts and at many different scales, from high-functioning households to the internals of high-functioning businesses, and in most of the now-few ‘traditional’ societies that have so far managed to withstand the ravages of ‘development’.

A possession-based economy is, in effect, a dysfunctional overlay on top of a responsibility-based economy. To be blunt, a selfish-child’s version of an economy, in which everything is deemed to be centred solely around themselves. (Technically, it’s a ‘subject-based’ model: all others are deemed to be subjects of self.)

The fundamental basis of a possession-economy is that it ignores or rejects outright many of the mutual-responsibilities that make an economy viable and sustainable over the longer-term. In effect, it ‘sweeps the mess under the carpet’, and attempts to conceal the mess via a myth of ‘infinite growth’. Yet those responsibilities don’t simply disappear because we ignore them: they’re still there, still gathering metaphoric interest (to use the monetary term). So when the myth of ‘infinite growth’ hits up against the real-world’s finite limits – which is what’s happening now – the whole thing is going to come apart at the seams. At that point, the only viable option is to reinstate what does actually work: a responsibility-based economics.

Which means that we’ll have to dismantle the entire superstructure of possession, and everything built on top of that as well; and then rebuild a new set of structures pretty much from scratch, starting from right down at the root-level, and then building upward again from there. Which is definitely a non-trivial challenge: but we really do not have any choice about that. (If we want to survive, that is…)

The catch is that the change-over has to be total: no exceptions at all. Possession is highly-addictive, and fatally-infective: if we allow any of it to remain, it will destroy the economy all over again – and we won’t be able to survive another mess like this one. There’s no getting round that fact: it really is all, or nothing. Literally.

Which where it gets kinda scary…

Possession has to go. Perhaps doesn’t sound so bad at first, because it might seem too abstract to matter. But we mean that this applies to all notions of possession, in every one of its real-world forms. No exceptions. No exceptions.

Which means barter has to go too, because barter assumes that we must already possess something, in an exclusive sense, in order to be able to exchange it for something else.

Which means that money, or currency in any form, also has to go, because in effect that’s just an overlay on top of barter.

Which means, among other things, that the entire monetary-system has to go; the entire banking-system and finance-system has to go; the entirety of microeconomics, the entire system of pricing and valuation, yes, that all has to go too. And the entire tax-system has to be re-thought from scratch, along with the entire social-benefits system, the fundamentals of the insurance-system, the fundamentals of most medical-care systems, the fundamentals of most forms of trade, and much, much, much more.

The entirety of the property-system needs to be restructured from scratch, refocussed around responsibilities: in a responsibility-based economy, we own something not because we claim to ‘possess’ it, but because we declare and demonstrate responsibility for it.

Yep: this isn’t something that we can fix up with a few minor tweaks here and there – which is all that most people seem to be aiming for at present. It’s big. Really big. Huge. And yet it’s probably the only chance that we have to get out of this mess.

And just to make it even more fun, we also have to remove all forms of possession in the social sphere. Of which the most important, most pervasive, and most pernicious, is the concept of ‘rights’. (Ouch… not going to be popular for saying that, am I? 🙁 )

Yet the blunt fact is that ‘rights’ aren’t real: they only exist because of the mutual responsibilities that create the conditions that we want when we talk of ‘rights’. And the other blunt fact is that most so-called ‘rights’ are actually little more than a sneaky method to evade key aspects of the mutuality of those responsibilities, and attempt to offload the responsibilities onto everyone else. Which is, technically, a form of abuse – and hence, in many cases, a fully state-sponsored form of structural abuse against those who are deemed not to have the respective ‘rights’. Which is why things often don’t work very well – especially whenever someone insists on bringing their purported ‘rights’ into the picture… Most so-called ‘human rights’ exist solely to compensate for someone else’s so-called ‘rights’: and the only viable way to sort out the resultant shambles is to get rid of the whole mess of ‘rights’, and focus on the responsibilities instead.

In short, the entire notion of ‘rights’ is a form of possession – or more often the ‘anti-possession’ of a claimed absence of responsibility. Which is why ‘rights’ have to go, too.

Yes, I’m serious: no rights. For anyone. Anywhere. Ever. Instead, we have to replace every single purported ‘right’ with social-structures that are based on the actual underlying mutual-responsibilities, to deliver the same overall results, and more. (That’s not hard to do, by the way: most businesses do it internally all of the time, in one way or another. Yet for many people, though, the ending of the delusion of ‘rights’ is definitely going to be the hardest part of this to face…)

So: no possession, no barter, no money, and no rights. Think that might mean a few changes to most our existing institutions, then…?

Which, in turn, is why most of those institutions aren’t likely to be much help here either:

  • Would you trust a banker to supervise the end of the entire banking-system?
  • Would you trust a lawyer to supervise the end of most current law?
  • Would you trust an economist to rethink the entire economy?
  • Would you trust a government to rethink the entire nature of government?

Hmm… probably not?

So who could do this work that so obviously and urgently needs to be done?

It’s going to need someone with a solid background in futures. Most futurists, though would, only deal with the abstract, the future – they don’t deal much with the nitty-gritty of ‘the now’.

It’s going to need someone with some solid experience in negotiation, in governance, and design for governance. A lot of people in the social-work space could do that – but they usually don’t have much experience of futures, or of dealing with anything that isn’t primarily about people.

It’s going to need to need a total re-think of business-processes, business-models and business in general, in just about every possible field of work. Most business analysts could do that, if it was all about money – which it isn’t. Which kind of rules them out for this work as well.

It’s going to need to cross an enormous scope – in a way, it’d be literally everything. Not a good role for single-domain specialists, then.

Which kinda bring us back to the skillsets of the enterprise-architect: futures-oriented, but practical; people-oriented, but with a solid grasp of the technical too; a lot of experience with re-thinking every aspect of business, outside of a purely money-oriented scope; and above all, consummate generalists.

So yeah, does kinda look like the ball’s in our court, doesn’t it?


Comments, anyone?

6 Comments on “One more try…

  1. Well, Tom, as usual I enjoyed reading this. And I come increasingly to realize we have a lot in common in our view of the world. So I’ll do something that’s typically me and just point at a couple of (what I see as) flaws.
    First there’s a major element of All or Nothing in the argumentation. I don’t dispute the intellectual logic in the argument but, just as in the practice of enterprise architecture, if we can’t achieve anything until we’ve achieved everything, I fear over 5 (10, 25, 50) years we’ll still be sitting in the same old pub being the same old bar room revolutionaries – what my father always referred to as the Small Party of Good Boys. And hey, if the whales are all gone before the revolution happens, well that’s just part of the great dialectic isn’t it? (Sorry, I’m enjoying myself here).
    And second there’s the rather chilling thought of letting a bunch of EAs sort it out for us. Even if it were a fairly big bunch of extremely capable and jolly nice people, it would still be a self-appointed elite bringing socialism/enlightenment/God/whatever to the masses. You can’t give the people freedom – they have to make it themselves. Otherwise you’ll get “death to liberty” scenarios (see the first scene in Bunuel’s Phantom of Liberty) and next thing we’re all dead on the fields of Waterloo.
    Now if we could contribute our skills to the #OccupyWallStreet folks……

  2. @Stuart Boardman – Hi Stuart – happy for you to “point at a couple of flaws” – I’ve no doubt there’ll be plenty of those… 😐 You’re right, of course, though there’s a bit more that might perhaps make them a bit less ‘flaw-ish’? 🙂

    “First, there’s a major element of All or Nothing in the argumentation”: Short answer is that, around expunging the concept of possession, yes, there is, and with very good reason. Possession is, both metaphorically and literally, a cancer: its dual mantra of “Grow, grow, grow!” and “Possess, possess, possess!” should warn us of that straight away. As any oncologist will tell you, once chemotherapy and suchlike fails to make a difference, the only option is to cut the whole thing out. And as that oncologist would also tell you, we dare not leave the job half done: the whole lot has to come out, without exception, otherwise it comes straight back again, often with renewed destructive vigour. So yeah, what we’re talking about here is a cancer that’s at real risk of killing its host Real Soon Now. It’s not quite at terminal-stage yet, but not far off it – and we all know that now. Full-scale surgery of the kind I’ve suggested above ain’t gonna be fun, for sure: but it’s literally that or a fairly nasty death. (Ever seen a friend die of a brain-tumour? – I have: and I wouldn’t wish that even on my worst possible enemy…) Since the ‘cancer host’ here happens to be all of us, right here, right now, then yes, a certain air of ‘All or Nothing’ would seem to be advisable, wouldn’t you think?

    “If we can’t achieve anything until we’ve achieved everything” – that’d be a fair critique if that’s what I’d said. Since it isn’t – in fact very explicitly isn’t – then it’s not quite fair. 🙂 What I did say is that we have perhaps no more than 10 years to get started, and perhaps 50 years to finish the job; but if we don’t get started within that 10 years, the thing would hit the terminal-stage within no more than another decade beyond that (i.e. 20 years from now). That timing is pretty much typical from most of the futurists and other analysts I’ve seen: it’s not just a figure I’ve made up out of my head.

    It’s the scope that’s ‘All or Nothing’. Once we start to tackle possession, everything that’s built on top of it has to go too: it should be obvious, surely, that we can’t be selective about that? All I’m saying about this, really, is that we have to get our heads around the sheer scope of this in order to be able to build something that will work. The architecture has to be able to cover all of that scope. But the implementation of that architecture doesn’t have to happen all at once: in fact I’ve explicitly said that I expect it to take several decades at least. Sure, one of the hardest parts of any architecture is to develop a roadmap (implementation-sequence) that avoids the ‘everything must come before everything else’ syndrome. But in the assessment-phase – which is all we’re in right now – we do have to cover the whole scope. Which means that, yes, we do indeed have to cover All, with ‘no exceptions’ – otherwise we may as well do Nothing. In the assessment-phase, again – we ain’t nowhere near implementation as yet.

    In short, I ain’t quite that stupidly idealistic? (Not yet, anyway… 🙂 )

    “And second there’s the rather chilling thought of letting a bunch of EAs sort it out for us.” Again, be fair? 🙂 – ‘cos that isn’t what I said, at all. What I did say was that some groups of people (bankers, lawyers, economists, politicians) all but automatically disqualify themselves because they’re too deeply embedded in the status quo to be able to ‘think outside of the box’; and some other groups of people (mainstream futurists, social workers, business-analysts) have important skillsets for this assessment-phase but cover only specific subsets of the overall scope and hence may miss some (or many) of the crucial interdependencies across that scope. EAs and the like are some of the few groups who do cover all of that scope: hence we have a literal ‘response-ability’ to do something useful here. In other words, we’re able to do the work, and the work needs to be done: how’s about stepping up to our responsibilities (‘response-abilities’) here? I really didn’t say any more than that: the rest is something that you’ve imputed from what I’d said, not what I’d actually said. Fair enough? 🙂

    (Remember also that in other posts I’ve been hammering the point that the EA’s role is usually one of decision-support, not decision-making. “Bringing [whatever] to the masses” is a politician’s job, or a priest’s – not a job I would relish, anyway! 😐 But again, someone – some kind of ‘backroom bod’ – has to think about the whole of the scope, and the implications [and imprecations? 🙂 ] across the whole of that scope: and that’s more the kind of work that we do tackle. Which is what’s needed at this stage: and with enough clarity to get even a politician or a priest to wake up, too. :wry-grin: Again, I ain’t saying it’s any more than that – honest! 🙂 )

    “Now if we could contribute our skills to the #OccupyWallStreet folks…” – y’know, I was kinda hopin’ we already is, with our a-discussin’-of strange Really Big Picture ideas like this? 🙂

  3. @Peter Ward – “a new movement for social justice that is spreading like wildfire from Madrid to Jerusalem to 146 other cities and counting” – yes, exactly.

    Yet as someone quoted on Twitter a day or so ago, “Theory without practice is meaningless, but practice without theory is blind”. The practice is definitely starting to happen, and fast: which means we also need to get moving fast on the theory side too.

    Interesting Times ahead…? 🙂

  4. @Tom. I think the critique was worthwhile because what you wanted to say is now much clearer and less open to misinterpretation – in my opinion. I was to some extent being provocative but only to some extent.
    I don’t actually see anything about 10 years to start and 50 to finish in the original text. To really address my point though, we need to define the steps and the interim goals (just like we do in EA). That doesn’t mean I expect you to do it on your own (or even at all, if you don’t agree). We all need to put our money where our mouths are.
    I think one needs to be whatever that park in New York is called or in one of the other places where it’s happening to really influence that movement. I don’t mean to suggest that the debates we’re having in the blogosphere aren’t worthwhile. I do question how visible we are to the folks in the park.
    Perhaps the most important contribution we can make is actually to pursue the debate within the world in which we work. The more these ideas are normalized, the more chance the silent majority (lacking a Mubarak to campaign against) will adopt them. Even if it’s only partial acceptance it makes it easier to have the debate with a larger audience.

  5. @Stuart Boardman – Oops… my bad… sorry: the reference to 10 years and 50 years was in the ‘Governance‘ post, not this one. (Mr Fails-To-Check-His-Own-References strikes again… 🙁 – again, my apologies….)

    “We all need to put our money where our mouths are” – strongly agreed: which is why I’m writing these posts, and also why I wrote what’s now the ‘Yabbies‘ sort-of-novel, starting at least ten years ago. I’ve already had at least one nominal colleague tell me in no uncertain terms that I’m committing professional-suicide by doing so: but hey, someone’s got to do it, and it seems like I have the ‘response-ability’ to do it, hence, yes, I’m accepting my responsibilities in this in my own all-too-limited way. “Doing the best that I can”, as Wangari Maathai put it so beautifully.

    “Perhaps the most important contribution we can make is actually to pursue the debate within the world in which we work” – yes: and again, that’s why I’m doing this. The debate is happening right here, right now, with me, and you, and Peter, and anyone who reads this or cares to join in. Around a thousand people do follow my Twitter-feed, and I know that a fair few of them do stop by and look and what I’m doing from time to time. And others are doing their own “the best that I can” – as can be seen via Peter’s link to Avaaz above.

    We know how this works, the Innovation Curve and the rest. The Early Adopters are already there, mostly: but we know that the Chasm is what comes next, and that’s where we need to build an architectural framework to bridge across the chasm. That’s where these kind of questions come into the picture: we’re way too early for anything that looks like a concrete ‘the Answer’ as yet, so perhaps using all of our professional skills in asking the right kinds of questions would be the useful thing we could do right now? That’s my own driver here, anyway: well aware that I ain’t nothin’ wonderful, it’s just, as I said, “I’m doing the best that I can”.

    And thanks very much for the challenges here – because it really does help. Thank you. 🙂

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